After failing to see off Celta Vigo at home on Saturday, Atlético Madrid are in danger of losing ground early on in the defence of their La Liga title, and need a convincing three points to really kick the new campaign into gear.
On Wednesday night, they travel to Almería in what will be the last of Diego Simeone’s four match touchline ban, looking to win for the first time since 1995 in the Juegos Mediterráneos.
Kick-off in Andalusia is set for 20:00 CET.
Two disappointing results in the last week has spread some concern amongst Atlético fans, with questions already being asked of the team and certain players.
Having had such a settled group last year, we are still waiting for the new side to really hit their stride and gel together as a unit, something that is evident given the uncharacteristic defensive errors we’ve seen in recent matches.
The rojiblancos sit sixth in La Liga following tonight’s results, four points adrift of leaders Barcelona and also behind Sevilla and Valencia, who, according to Simeone, are our main rivals this year.
19 players have been called for the trip, but despite re-joining full training yesterday, Mario Mandžukić has not been deemed fit enough to make a return.
The Croatian forward underwent surgery on a nose fracture last Thursday, but hasn’t travelled, meaning Raúl Jiménez will most likely get another chance up front.
Jesús Gámez has also not been called-up, he will have to wait for his debut in red and white as once again Cholo has decided to leave the former Málaga captain back home in Madrid.
Back in contention for the first time since the International break is Cristian Rodríguez, who picked up an injury with Uruguay earlier in the month but has trained fully this week and could take a place on the bench.
In his press conference, Simeone played down some of the fears fans have had as of late, insisting that the fact so much is being demanded of the team from outside of the camp is a positive thing.
“Everything good we did last year was valued, respected, and lived from the joy that we gave the people with what we achieved,” he said. “This is a new season, the expectations are high and we will be observed as a consequence of those achievements.”
“Our main focus is the important match we have to play tomorrow, we face a well worked rival that has improved since last season. A team who feels much more comfortable in the First Division and have dangerous players on the wings.”
The Argentine head coach also spoke about our lack of goals from open play, putting it down to an improvement needed by the team as a collective, and also gave a vote of confidence to the much-maligned Raúl Jiménez.
“I think Raúl is doing fine,” he told press. “He always trains to improve, and will surely give us very important things this season. The change of coming to play to Europe is not an easy one to make, but we’re confident in the player and I’m convinced he will repay our faith.”
In Almería, we come up against one of the four teams to have beaten us on our way to winning the title last year. Back in February, Francisco Rodríguez’s team threatened to derail our dream at a crucial point in the season, deservedly winning 2-0 with a couple of late goals.
They have enjoyed a fairly solid start and currently sit in 10th, having gotten off the mark on Sunday with an impressive 2-1 win away at Real Sociedad.
Currently in their ranks is Ghanaian midfielder Thomas Partey – on loan from Atleti – an ever present so far in what is his debut La Liga season. Simeone is said to be an admirer of the 21 year-old, and identified him as one of the hosts key players in his press conference.
However, due to a clause in his contract he will not be able to line-up against his parent club. Sebastián Dubarbier also misses out having seen red in the Anoeta, and veteran midfielder Miguel Corona is nursing an injury.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moya, Oblak
Defenders: Godín, Siqueira, Ansaldi, Juanfran, Miranda, Giménez
Midfielders: Mario, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Saúl, Cerci
Forwards: Raúl Jiménez, Griezmann